In the OCD treatment world, reassurance seeking is considered to be a big no-no. What is reassurance seeking? It's when you keep trying to find evidence that what you thought, did, said, or felt, is really ok. Reassurance seeking can take all kinds of forms. I was really, really good at getting reassurance without anyone else even knowing it.
|Said by Monique. On more occasions|
than she can remember.
Of course, I also did a lot of actual reassurance seeking from my family. "Are you sure I didn't hit someone with my car? Are you sure I didn't do the wrong thing by going out in public while I had a head cold (and I could have passed it on to someone and maybe they could die from it)? Are you sure I'm not a bad person?" On and on it went. My poor family.
We can also give ourselves reassurance, and that can be more difficult to spot. Saying things to ourselves like, "Oh, I'm sure I didn't cause a car accident because I can see in my rearview mirror that all of those cars behind me are still driving normally. They would all have pulled over if something really had happened." (That could be considered a mental compulsion and/or a checking compulsion.) Or, "My hands aren't really that dirty, so it's ok if I don't wash them."
Why is reassurance seeking taboo in the treatment of OCD? Because it is a compulsion and a form of enabling. Compulsions are actions that we perform (or covertly get others to perform!) in order to reduce our anxiety caused by the scary thoughts (obsessions). What's wrong with a compulsion? Unfortunately, for people with anxiety disorders, compulsions only make the obsessions worse. We might feel temporarily better, but it never lasts. And then we need to do more compulsions. It just doesn't stop. That is why we are taught in treatment to take a chance and live with uncertainty (as horribly painful as that is). It is only when we can live with uncertainty that anxiety stops taking control of our lives.
So instead of telling ourselves, "Well, my hands aren't that dirty," we could tell ourselves "Yes, my hands are dirty, and I'm just going to have to live with the consequences." Instead of seeking reassurance from friends and family, I could live with the possibility that maybe my food did cause someone to get sick. I could even learn to live with the idea that maybe I really am a bad person. (Oooh, that's a super tough one.)
Stopping all reassurance seeking is pretty hard-core ERP, and some experts do suggest it. But do we need to stop all reassurance seeking, right away? Do we even need to remove all reassurance seeking? Come back tomorrow and I'll share my thoughts about that with you.